Kyle Busch wasn’t the only driver to overcome adversity during Sunday’s running of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But he was the only one to end up in victory lane.
The race winner was involved in a multi-car crash on the second lap of the 500-lap affair, sustaining damage to the rear of his car. But he patiently worked his way back through the field. He took his first lead at lap 384.
The key to the win came late – Busch collected his third win of the season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and his eight overall at Bristol Motor Speedway when he chose track position over fresh tires during the 11th and final caution of the race.
“I don’t know, we’re crazy; we just do what we do (to) try to win,” the driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing said after climbing from his entry on the frontstretch.
The final run to the checkered flag was set up after Kyle Larson got into the wall with less than 25 laps remaining to bring out the yellow flag. Joey Logano and Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, running 1-2, hit pit road, as did several others in the lead pack.
But Busch, along with older brother Kurt, opted to stay out, along with Daniel Suarez and Paul Menard to restart first through fourth when the field went back to green with just 14 laps remaining.
“It’s pretty awesome to be able to snooker those guys, get our win today here at Bristol,” the younger Busch said. “I love this place.
“It was fun to battle out the brother there at the end. I know we didn’t quite get the side-by-side racing it out; I saw him looking at the top. I’m like, ‘I better go.’ I got up there, was able to make some ground.”
“It was a no-brainer for us,” crew chief Adam Stevens said afterward when asked about the call not to bring his driver to pit road.
Busch also paid tribute to three-time series champion and FOX NASCAR analyst Darrell Waltrip, who won 12 times at the Tennessee venue.
“It ain’t 12, that’s for sure,” Busch said of his win total at BMS. “So I’ve got more to go.”
There were issues on the final restart, Keselowski was penalized for failing to follow a NASCAR directive, but none for the front two.
Logano, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin completed the top five.
Menard, Clint Bowyer, Suarez, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson were sixth through 10th respectively.
“I really wanted to beat him,” Kurt Busch said of the battle with his brother. “I was going to wreck him. … He already won (this year). I figure he could give a little love to his brother. I wanted that one bad. …
“I’m happy that we were in position to do it. This group of guys, we’re not quite ready to win yet, but that was close.”
The win was Busch’s 54th overall in the series. His previous wins this season came at ISM (Phoenix) Raceway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California
He led 71 laps, including the final 19. He also overcame an early spin that saw his Toyota swept up in a five-car incident on just the second lap of the 500-lap race.
The race was the eighth of the season; all eight have been won by drivers from either the JGR or Team Penske camps.
It was a battle reminiscent of past contests held at Bristol, with plenty of contact as well as lead changes. Blaney was the lap leader at 158 while Logano paced the field for 146.
Ty Dillon was a surprising winner of the opening stage, edging Bowyer with a last-lap pass. Logano won the second stage.
Several teams, including those of Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, battled loose wheel issues. Others were merely forced to deal with damage typically associated with the close-quarters racing that has been the norm at BMS.